In late November, six Muslim clerics were removed from a US Airways flight in Minneapolis after some other passengers were disturbed by their very public praying at the gate. This has become a major incident, with the imams claiming religious discrimination, various interfaith organizations conducting "pray-ins" and calling for the acceptance of public prayer, and other Muslims calling for the establishment of a private "prayer room" at the Minneapolis airport.
Here's where you might expect me to get all up in arms and plead for more tolerance toward minority religions and such. Suprise.
Not that I support yanking the obviously harmless clerics off the plane (that reeked of overkill), but I do think that their actions in the terminal were inappropriate for the very public place they were in. Praying silently and privately is one thing; laying down prayer mats, kneeling down and bowing, and reciting your prayers out loud is something completely different.
While this activity is perfectly acceptable in a mosque or private home, in a public setting it can be very disrupting. There is an unstated obligation in a public society to fit in with your surroundings, to not draw attention to yourself. You can be as individualistic as you want in private, but in public you become part of the public. That's why we have various laws regulating public behavior -- you can't walk around naked in public, or play your car radio too loud on a neighborhood street, or stagger around drunk and beligerant. We moderate ourselves in public in order to form an orderly society; practicing private ritual in public disrupts that order.
I don't direct these comments solely to Muslims who feel the need to pray five times a day, no matter where they are or what they're doing; the same holds for anyone who wants to make private religious rituals public. Imagine a Pentacostal loudly speaking in tongues during dinner hour at Applebees, or a Buddhist sitting down to meditate in a cross-legged position in the middle of a crowded shopping mall, or a fervent Baptist holding his Bible aloft and shouting out prayers in the aisle of a commuter train. None of these are appropriate public behaviors; all become disruptive when forced on nearby strangers.
I would think this would be self-evident, that individuals would police themselves in these matters, and that further restrictive rules and regulations would not be necessary. Instead, what seems to be to be common-sense restraint is viewed as advocating religious intolerance. Asking someone to tone down their behavior in public is now tantamount to attacking an entire religion. It's political correctness elevated to a level of religious evangelism, and it's wrong.
If you want to pray, do it at home, or in church, or silently to yourself. When you're in public, moderate your behavior so as not to offend or disrupt others. Asking someone to pray to themselves is not religious intolerance; it's simple civility.
But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.